By: Jodi Perkins

Clutching the bottle tightly in her fist, Kate looked to the right, looked to the left, and plopped down into a cloud of dust on the dry ground. Her parched lips trembled. A juniper bush scratched her cheek. The branch smelled delicious and fresh in the warm, engorged air, but it was only teasing her. Just like the clouds—heavy, puffed-up monstrosities clustered above her head, stubbornly withholding fresh rain the same way she stubbornly withheld tears. Glancing up at the greasy sky, she knew the smears of clouds would eventually open up. But the rain they oozed would never quench her. It would only taunt her.

Her search for water had begun like everyone else's. She had tried lakes. Rivers. Streams. Miles upon miles of beautiful, bending, blue water. She knew in her heart they were tainted. But she had to see for herself. She remembered cupping the cool water in her hands; trickling it into her mouth. It burned her lips. She spit it out. It was poison. Beautiful, bending, blue poison.

Once realization struck, mobs surged the reservoirs and water towers. Riots erupted. Civilized people were suddenly willing to kill for one bucket-full of uncontaminated water. She shuddered, remembering.

The scientists called the culprit the Northern August Aquiriids, the meteor shower that contaminated all of Earth's water. The layperson called the calamity Hot August Nights. People of faith called it "Wormwood." Either way, legions of lives were lost in that dazzling hell-storm. Survivors felt crushed, and guiltily fortunate, to pick up the pieces. Little did they know their fate was worse. Wormwood snuffed out the lives of their loved ones in a heartbeat. A blaze of glory. It didn't squeeze their lives out slowly, drop by drop, the way it did now.

Thunder clapped above her head. The clouds opened up and fat drops fell down to Earth. Streams of toxic water trickled from her hair and ran down her face. Feeling the moisture touch her lips, her stomach lurched painfully with want.

Taking a deep, shivery breath, she forced herself to stand. Then she saw it. Glittering like a liquid silver snake. A spring. The tiniest of springs, trickling from a crack in the gray granite rocks, half-covered with a ceiling of thick briar.

It's poison, like the rest.

But something else caught her eye. A ground squirrel, fat, healthy, taking hearty sips.

Daring to hope, she clambered toward the stream. She dipped her hand into the warm water, bringing it to her lips. Her heart pounded in her chest.

The water was clean.

Tears that should have run dry hours ago squeezed from her eyes. She removed the lid from the bottle clutched in her hand, scooping up the fresh water. She replaced the lid, complete with rubber nipple, and shook it gently until it turned white.

She had dried up days ago, but her little Faith would be nourished tonight after all.

For the first time in what felt like eternity, Kate was quenched.


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